Haggling

Alright, I’ve made my way to Phuket, Thailand. The journey was long and I’m happy to have arrived.

Most of the journey was with Qatar Airways, which was my first experience with them. They flew me to Doha, Qatar and after a 90 minute gap I connected to another flight to Bangkok, Thailand. I got a very positive impression of them – the staff called me “sir”, each flight included a meal with drinks (I always opted for Heineken beer) plus teas and coffees. None of that cheap budget airline shopping or lottery ticket crap required.

The staff asked me if I enjoyed my meal and later one girl took an interest in the book I was reading and asked me about it. The overnight flight provided an eye mask to hide any lights, earplugs, a toothbrush and toothpaste and of course a pillow and blanket. This was all very nice.

The onboard entertainment was good – I watched three movies, listened to music and enjoyed my book. I could get used to this…

I met up with my mates at the airport in Bangkok. And within 2-3 hours we were on our final flight to Phuket. That was a short journey (1 hour in the air) with a very cheap budget airline. It was nowhere near as nice to my previous two flights but OK due to the short duration.

We got to the hotel, which is a bit of a dump. We expected better but maybe it’s what it should be for £33 a night in a twin room. For example the bathroom seems to be someone’s “project”. The showerhead has been plastered or fixed an ungodly amount of times. I’m too scared to adjust it as it’s likely to fall off the wall. We have similar issues with the tap over the sink – the metal tap part hasn’t been secured to the porcelain sink. So every time you turn the tap the entire thing moves. Also, the picture on the TV is horrendous – how do you mess up that? Finally, the walls seem to be very thin – we can hear all the noise from the hallway and neighbouring rooms.

Those things aside, we have a working air conditioning unit and water comes out of the tap.

After making ourselves beautiful, we decided to go check out the beach. As we walked, we discovered how dirty and smelly Phuket is. I expected it to be more Westernised as it gets many tourists but I was wrong. We also decided that we need to buy some travel essentials – beach towels, flip-flops, sunscreen, sunglasses etc.

It wasn’t easy to find flip-flops for my size 45 feet. They didn’t have anything my size in the first few shops. Somehow, as a joke, we decided to haggle with the price when we kinda found something we’d like to buy.

Haggling was very entertaining. For example they asked for 450 THB for flip-flops, I say 250, they counter with 350, I say 275, they say “350 is good price”, I start walking away and then they drop it to 300. I didn’t buy, it was good fun though as we discussed what our next offer would be each time they moved on the price. I did the same in two more places as they priced flip-flops similarly.

Eventually, I ended up with flip-flops at 120 THB (£3) where the lady asked for 150 THB (£3.75) originally from a shop a bit further away.

Out of curiosity, I walked into a few tailor’s shops as well. I wanted to know if I was able to snatch a bargain custom tailored suit for myself.

The first tailor was a poor fit as the chap struggled with English and I didn’t feel comfortable doing any business there. He said good suits start from 6,000 THB (£150).

The second place was similarly priced but the chap had decent English. I spent at least an hour there talking about suits, styles, materials, sampled fabrics etc. I had a much better feeling about this chap even though we noticed he had a massive cockroach roaming around in his shop as we discussed business. He said it would take about a week to get the suit.

His initial price for my selected suit with Polish linen was £200 (the alternative with the cheaper linen material would cost £145) but I got it down to £175. He took my measurements and I gave him a deposit for half of the cost. I will need to come back in two days for “fitting” and then later again to pick up the final product.

In retrospect, I think I should have paid a smaller deposit and visit another two or three tailors before making my consumer purchase decision. Although the Polish linen felt much thicker and the texture was nicer, I’m not sure if it actually is any better or should be more expensive than the thinner type of linen. I will keep you posted.

I must say, although haggling started as a joke and that normally I feel hugely uncomfortable when somebody suggests I should try to get a discount on something, I had a lot of fun and it was so easy. I think the locals expect it and everything is up for negotiation.

Try some haggling, I’m sure it will help you on your FIRE journey. You might even have some fun with it.

Keeping my mobile phone bills low

Every six months I go to comparison websites to check if there is a mobile SIM-only deal, which is better than my current one.

You’ve probably heard that loyalty isn’t rewarded these days. The best deals tend to be available only to new customers, not long-standing clients. As a wise man once said:

These hoes ain’t loyal
These hoes ain’t loyal
Yeah, yeah, let me see…

I keep a recurring 6-monthly reminder in my Google calendar to notify me when I need to have a check for new offers. This works for me. It takes a quick 5-10 minute Google search and a browse on a few websites to see the latest offers.

I used to pay around £55 p.m. when I first bought my Google Pixel more than 3 years ago. This was the very first Pixel phone and I haven’t upgraded yet. #frugal There’s no need to upgrade it as it does everything I need it to do – my only concern is that the battery life isn’t that great anymore. I might invest in a new battery soon but it seems that would set me back £60, which is roughly half of the price of a brand new version of my phone. I find it difficult to pull the trigger on that one. I will probably wait until the current phone dies on me before I replace it.

Once my old £55 p.m. contract lapsed and my mobile phone was all mine, I decided to switch to a SIM-only deal for £7.50 p.m. That deal included 2Gb of mobile data. I was getting a £1.25 bill discount for each unused 1Gb of data (measured in Mb for the discount calculation).

A year or so later I switched again to another SIM-deal with a monthly cost of £6 and 2Gb of data. It also has a data rollover feature, which means the unused data from my monthly 2Gb allowance is available for use in the next month. So, hypothetically I could have 4Gb of data in a month where I only used WiFi in the previous month. This continues to be my current SIM-only deal.

Also, I was able to keep my number every time I switched contracts and the whole switching thing is really straightforward.

I had a browse on comparison websites a few days ago but didn’t find anything better than what I already have.

Good luck!

PS: Watch out for exit penalties when you try to get out of a contract early. As a result of not switching mobile contracts millions are overcharged in the UK.

Grocery deliveries

Groceries – we all need to buy them, regularly. There’s nothing exciting about it and it’s more of a chore (for me) than something I would look forward to doing.

Years ago, I discovered that I have the option of getting my groceries delivered home. I tried it out and have never looked back. This was such a lifesaver – no more carrying heavy bags upstairs and wasting time at the supermarket looking for the things on my shopping list. Now all I do is pick the stuff out on an app, pick a delivery slot and checkout. The only caveat is that you need to forward plan things as the delivery slots tend to be at least 1 day in the future.

I can also repeat the same shopping basket from previous deliveries or load the previous basket and amend it slightly before checking out again. 21st-century technology baby!

It costs a little bit extra to have my shopping delivered but I figured that my time is more valuable than a few pounds.

Some supermarkets also offer delivery passes, where you pay a one-off fee of £30 (or similar), which will ensure you get all deliveries say on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for free for a full year. This represents great value as I order something every week (for Wednesday mornings before I go to work). Each delivery would normally cost around £3 without the annual pass and therefore I’m saving 52 x £3 – £30 = £126 each year or around £10 each month.

Yes, the monetary benefit of the delivery pass isn’t huge but if you add in the saved time and reduced hassle, it becomes a fantastic deal.

My most stressful holiday

As part of my FIRE strategy, I try to keep my expenditure relatively modest. However, this year I’ve got a big holiday coming up. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for quite some time but never pulled the trigger. It’s OK to treat yourself every now and then. #SelfCare

I’m due to go on holiday to Thailand but as you can tell by the title of this post, things aren’t exactly going my way.

For starters, I needed to get various vaccinations done before leaving the UK. That was annoying as I booked an appointment with my GP, but should’ve really booked a nurse. For some reason, GPs are incapable of operating a syringe it seems. Therefore, I had to return to the GP surgery on another day and take time out of my working day. To make things even worse, I wasn’t seen until 20 minutes past my appointment – this makes me wonder why we even have appointments if these aren’t being followed. I can’t imagine a client coming to my office for a meeting and then not getting any updates or apologies/explanations why they can’t see whoever they arrived to meet. I believe poor service is just the way the public sector operates these days. They clearly have no incentive to improve because where else would people go for “free” healthcare. It’s not really free as we all chip in with our taxes… I wish it was possible for me to opt-out of the NHS and put that money to use in a more productive way.

I hadn’t had any vaccinations in more than 10 years and felt like a stray dog picked up from the rain outdoors when I was talking to the nurse. I got three jabs for 5 diseases and a resulting sore shoulder for a couple of days. Apparently I need to return again in 6 months for another Hepatitis A dose to get immunity for something like 25 years or so…

Not long after my GP visit, we had the Ukrainian plane crash near Tehran. It wasn’t just a crash – the Iranian army shot it down after the Americans murdered some kind of Iranian general who nobody had ever heard about. Guess who’s flying over Iran soon?

My trip to Thailand is with Qatar Airways, who fly to Doha, Qatar and then I need to make a connecting flight to Bangkok, Thailand. Apparently it is not possible for Qatar Airways to avoid the Iran/Iraq airspace, unlike other carriers, due to political differences between Qatar’s neighbours. Many other carriers would simply fly over Saudi Arabia.

My worried brain started a mini-panic and looked into my cancellation rights and stuff but I didn’t find anything useful. Luckily, over the next following days, things seem to have normalised in that part of the world. All that stress for nothing.

And now, the big issue with Asia is the coronavirus situation (pandemic?), which is giving me a headache. The latest news was that Thailand had 19 confirmed infections of this new virus. No doubt that this will increase in the coming days and weeks. Should I travel and risk contracting a deadly disease (it seems it mostly kills only old and frail people) or call the whole thing off and have a staycation instead? Why can’t this be easy? Aren’t holidays supposed to be relaxing?

I really hope that everything sorts itself out and that I can go enjoy my trip but so far it’s been nothing but a source of concern. I want to read something positive about the situation for a change and am tired of the sensational clickbait articles.

In other news, it’s Brexit day and a few minutes past 11 PM in London, which is when we “left” the EU and our transition period started. Let’s see how all this plays out.

I expect to spend a bit of my cash reserves on my holiday, but it’s manageable and only a one-off event. It will be OK and I will be soon back to normal with my monthly contributions to my portfolio.

Good night!

Bonus sacrifice

HR sent a bonus sacrifice form recently to all employees at work. The form is to instruct HR to sacrifice a certain portion of my potential bonus into my pension. For example, if my bonus is £3,000 then, I could opt to have a portion or all of it paid into my work pension.

Doing so makes a lot of sense as I’m a good little saver anyway. I spend less than I earn and my savings rate is something between 50%-60% of my net salary. Therefore, the bonus would be extra for my living needs and I’d rather have it all tucked away nicely for the future. The added benefit is that if the bonus is sacrificed, rather than paid as salary, the employer can choose to pay their NI savings (13.8% usually) into the pension as well. This gives a further boost to my pension pot and is therefore totes worth it.

The only downside with bonus sacrifice, and pension savings (in general), is the long wait until I can access the monies. I will need to wait 25+ years until I reach 57 or 58, which is going to be the likely age pensions can be accessed at in the future – the minimum age requirement is currently 55.

I, of course, plan to live into my late 50s and well beyond that. Therefore, I am happy to delay gratification and invest the bonus for the long term. This is why I decided to sacrifice 100% of my bonus. HR confirmed that it will be processed in the March payroll.

PS: Don’t take this as advice to sacrifice your bonus, your circumstances could be very different from me. There are situations where sacrificing your bonus could be a very bad idea and lead to loads of tax to pay – for example where individuals hold Fixed Protection or Enhanced Protection for the lifetime allowance or where individuals have already “flexibly” accessed their pensions and are subject to the money purchase annual allowance of £4,000 (way below the standard £40,000 most people have). This stuff can be complicated and isn’t really the point of this blog.

My plan is to continue sacrificing my bonus into my pension each and every tax year whilst gainfully employed. This will be an even easier decision once I become a higher rate tax payer (assuming my salary will increase in the future) as sacrificing the bonus avoids paying roughly half to the taxman (accounting for income tax and employee national insurance contributions).

Don’t forget that you have the flexibility of sacrificing a smaller portion of your pension. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

Happy bonus season!